Historian C.F. Goodey on the varying terms the elite have used to justify their elite status, via New Left Project:
Four hundred years ago, religious elites saw themselves as superior because they possessed “grace.” This was an inner ability that God had predetermined in a small, distinct group. It was fixed in your nature, “seminally” (i.e. before birth or even conception). “Election” to grace guaranteed your elite status in this life and salvation in the next.
Secular elites, on the other hand, were superior because they possessed “honour.” This too was a predetermined psychological ability. It was fixed not by God but by the quality of certain natural particles in your blood – with a passing nod to the idea that the odd commoner might gradually cultivate enough “virtue” to earn himself a title, as long as he topped the virtue up with services to the state, or flat cash.
Modern meritocratic elites, meanwhile, are superior because they possess “intelligence.” This again is a predetermined psychological ability. It is fixed by your genetic nature – with a passing nod to nurture and personal effort, as even the most defensive geneticist will hasten to add.
Intelligence is a real category because, again, it is measurable. Psychometrics underwrites its existence with scientific evidence; this then feeds into lay presuppositions of a more general kind about an intellectual hierarchy among human beings.
Among meritocratic elites, the equivalent threat is “grade inflation” and “soft” subjects. They have fulfilled their obligation to encourage the ordinary to aspire, only to find that there are now too many of the blighters. Status holders will chop off the fingers of anyone grasping at the raft that might ensure rescue from a sea of reprobate, vulgar or dim-witted nonentity. Even those academics whose very business is scepticism still need to “maintain standards.” Intellectual ability has to be something real – how else will the children of academics, let alone the wealthy, receive their entitlement to a quiet, unhoodied school classroom in which it can be nurtured?
If social mobility is a move to somewhere, to a higher, cleaner caste, it is also a move away from somewhere. Does it mean people can permeate the barriers from anywhere? For children, this would require the abolition of private, selective, and segregated (special needs) schools. In universities, it would mean opening the life of the mind to those without prior qualifications or not seeking a degree. It would mean a single accreditation system, for those skills where accreditation seems necessary, that covers the apprentice plumber along with the rocket scientist. And it would mean having people with learning disabilities around, of whatever level of “severity,” since they must be assumed to have the same aspiration to learn as anyone else.